The Science

7spell is scientifically designed, and utilizes principles based on decades of research in learning, retention, and psychology. Here is a summary of the theory and research behind 7spell's effectiveness.

Craik, F., and Tulving, E. "Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 104(3) (1975): 268-294. Print and PDF.

In this seminal study performed at the University of Toronto, Canada, the authors performed a series of tests in which they gave the study participants a sequence of words to learn, with information related to each word as it appeared in order. They discovered that when the information provided stimulated the participant's brain to process the word on a more involved level (referred to as "deep encoding" or "degree of elaboration" in the study), that word was more effectively learned and remembered. With 7spell, the user is given a wide range of additional information about each spelling word, including the word's definition - one of the key factors in enhanced memory, according to this study - as well as usage examples, synonyms, and antonyms.

Garcia, S.M., Tor, A., and Schiff, T.M. "The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective." Perspectives on Psychological Science, November 2013, 8(6):634-650. Print and web.

Each person is influenced by a unique set of factors related to their own status and progress towards goals, but is also affected to a greater or lesser degree by the achievements and perceived standards of the people around them. This analysis of past and current studies looks at the way people view and are motivated by individual goals as well as societal achievement (competition). The authors conclude that effective use of motivational strategies must take both into account. This is something that 7spell accomplishes by providing each user with the ability to set personal goals, earn reward points, and view their own progress tracking reports, and also to publish all of those results on public social media platforms.

Kivetz, R., Urminsky, O., and Zheng, Y. "The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected: Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, and Customer Retention." Journal of Marketing Research, February 2006, 43(1):39-58. Web.

In a study focusing on the influence of reward-scheme programs on behavior, the authors found that when people see visible progress towards their goals they are more likely to increase the activity required to reach those goals. The study also confirms that most people are also motivated by receiving rewards for completing specific activities, even if those rewards are not immediately transferable to actual material or monetary benefits. Status points, rewards, and real-time progress tracking are all methods used in 7spell to encourage frequent spelling practice by awarding points for the completion of exercises and activities. Because the user can access their progress charts at any time, they will always be able to see how close they are to achieving their personal spelling goals.

Buton, M., Winterbauer, N., and Todd, T. "Relapse processes after the extinction of instrumental learning: Renewal, resurgence, and reacquisition." Behavioural Processes, May 2012, 90(1): 130–141. Print and web.

Instrumental learning, also called "operant conditioning," is a method by which behaviors are learned in connection with a stimulus, a reward, or both. In this research done at the University of Vermont, the authors studied the ways in which the information connected to a specific behavior is retained when the stimulus is removed, and how subsequent repetition or reward reinforces information recall and a resumption of previously learned behaviors. They conclude that there are two primary methods of reinforcing active memory and behavior: by creating a different way to test the subject's memory, and by providing the opportunity for intensive focused repetition of that stimulus-behavior response. These two methods are widely used in the 7spell activities and games to create the link between instruction and memory that is so crucial in effective spelling learning on the student's part.

Xue, G., Mei, L., Chen, C., Lu, Z-L., Poldrack, R., Dong, Q. "Spaced Learning Enhances Subsequent Recognition Memory by Reducing Neural Repetition Suppression." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2011;23(7):1624-1633. Print and web. http://doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21532

In this study comparing long-term and short-term memory, the study authors tested the neural activity of participants as they memorized a set of images. Half of the study participants used massed learning techniques, in which each new image was presented multiple times in a row; the other half were given the images in a spaced repetition mode, where the images were shown in alternating order. Although each participant saw each image the same number of times, the people in the spaced-repetition exercise were able to accurately remember more images, and for a longer period of time. Repetition is a key technique in learning spelling, and 7spell incorporates spaced repetition in two ways. First, the system uses randomized selection of spelling words from the user's current list to populate the activities and exercises, ensuring an interval between word reviews. Second, the system's Word Discover feature provides pop-up instant review of the words on that list, again in random order. By providing users with multiple opportunities throughout the day to read and review their words, 7spell provides all of the benefits of the spaced repetition methodology in its spelling instruction.

Blocki, J., Cranor, L., Datta, A., and Komanduri, S. "Spaced Repetition and Mnemonics Enable Recall of Multiple Strong Passwords." Cornell University Library, January 3, 2015. PDF.

Spaced repetition is a memory training tool that relies on frequent and consistent review of information; mnemonics is a memory technique that involves multiple ways of looking at that information, such as the incorporation of images or story lines. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University focused on the combination of spaced repetition and mnemonics in evaluating how best to train people to remember specific pieces of information: computer passwords. They found that by combining the two methodologies, the results in both ease of learning and retention were increased. 7spell uses each method separately and together to help users learn and remember new spelling words by using the same words in multiple exercises, presenting spelling words in a variety of formats, and encouraging users to add information related to each word to make a personal connection that helps them to remember that word and its correct spelling.


Ethan Wanger Welcomes English Speakers From Around The World At

Categories: About Spelling, Spelling Resources, Tips and Tricks |

If you live in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, then you can join Ethan Wanger at the next Real Life English party – but if you aren’t in Brazil, don’t worry, because the online party never stops! Ethan and the team of experienced ESL teachers have set up a network of web resources, Facebook forums, Twitter feeds, and podcasts to connect people around the world who want to improve their English skills. Their approach is to make learning English fun and practical by providing examples of real-life conversations as well as opportunities for people to practice their conversational skills together. We asked Ethan about this thoroughly 21st-century approach to learning English.

US: You’ve really taken advantage of the global community that the internet creates to promote English skills, like the ongoing online conversations people are having on your Facebook page. But you also host monthly “real life” Real Life English parties at your home base in Brazil, and you encourage people to come and meet in person. What’s better, meeting once a month to talk to people face to face, or chatting on line every day?

EW: Honestly, in order to really learn English–that is, for anyone who wants to become fluent–both meeting people face-to-face and talking online are crucial. I recently wrote an article about meeting English speakers in your city face-to-face using Couchsurfing and also an article about how to practice speaking online. Speaking is extremely important for English learners because that’s what language was invented for: communication.

We always promote making English a daily habit. It can’t be learned once a week in class. It must become a part of your life. We recommend to our students using their “convenient moments” to learn English. This means, for example, when you drive or ride the bus to work, while you’re cooking, while you’re walking your dog, while you’re showering, etc. This is time that you aren’t actively doing anything that you could be using to improve your English (largely by listening to something–podcasts, audiobooks, or music–or by reading). Just consider how much time you spend travelling to school or work every day. This is hours of English learning that one could add every week. Most people don’t even realize this!

We’ve also observed that the best English learners are lifelong English learners. English has truly formed a part of their everyday life, without them even thinking about “studying English.” They read the news in English, they listen to podcasts, they read books, they’re hooked on great American and British televisions shows, they watch movies in the original version, etc.

To answer your question more directly: it’s better to have a daily habit of chatting online every day than to just practice your English once a month. BUT, it’s also crucial to practice all areas of the language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. So, no one should choose to either just chat online or just go to a party once a month (the former often being more popular because it’s easier, and people are often embarrassed to speak face-to-face). If you want to become fluent, make English a daily habit in every way possible.

US: Your weekly podcasts cover vocabulary, grammar, and other English language topics. You also talk about expressions like “oh, yeah” and slang terms like … well, we won’t list any here, but let’s just say they’re definitely part of modern English! These terms probably won’t help people score high on English tests, so why should they be learned?

EW: We recommend learning these terms because we native speakers use them all the time when we speak with each other. If you’re just learning out of a textbook, you might sound like a robot. And most English learners not only want to become fluent, but they also want to speak the language like a native speaker.

I also want to clarify that most of the expressions we teach in our podcasts and our daily English expressions (on Facebook) are formal, non-offensive, and used in everyday English (the question made it sound as if they are all inappropriate in formal situations).

Most students do need to learn English to take some qualifications tests. But learning for these alone won’t prepare you for travelling to an English speaking country or for meeting native speakers (in fact, many of these tests don’t even require students to be good at speaking!). I’m not saying that it’s not important to learn the formal aspects of the language, so that you can get a good job and so you can be polite in the appropriate situations, but the real life aspects of the language–that is, how we native speakers use it everyday–are also important to learn, even if you choose not to use them.

US: You focus a lot on pronunciation and the rhythm of the spoken language, but people need to communicate in writing as well. What resources do you offer for practicing English spelling?

EW: It’s true we haven’t done too many articles focused on writing, and your question does remind me that we need to write more about that aspect of the language. I did however write an article on How to Improve Your Writing Online, which supplies many great resources.

Also, our community is an awesome place for people to practice their writing and spelling. We often see people asking for feedback on something they’ve written and people actually enjoy correcting each others’ writing. We love seeing this kind of interaction–English learners helping English learners!

US: There’s really a focus on working as part of a group and learning about other people and their cultures. Why do you encourage this type of interaction as part of the English learning process?

EW: Well, it’s always better to learn with other people than alone. A lot of this has to do with accountability. If you have someone to remind you to practice your English–for example, with whom you Skype, who is comfortable telling you, “Hey, your English really sucks today! What’s going on? You haven’t been practicing, have you?” you’re much more likely to keep a daily habit of studying!

It’s also the benefit of learning what other people have learned. Of sharing the best resources with each other. Of sharing English for Life–that is, things like videos, music, movies, and books.

Communities are extremely powerful. As a community, we can do more than just learn a language. We can change the world through English. We all motivate and inspire each other, as you can see on a daily basis in our community. It’s an international community, so we all share and learn about different places, people, and cultures. With globalization, intercultural communication is really important. Breaking down the barriers that exist between us. Not being judgmental or stereotyping about someone because of where they come from. And learning that when it comes down to it, no matter where we come from, we’re all human beings.

Having a common language facilitating communication really helps us all learn and unites us. And this is a large part of our big vision.

US: You provide so many online resources, it’s amazing: Skype or Google-based classes, the social media groups, the podcasts, the articles … but people can’t be online all the time. What do you recommend as a good way to get real life English skills – in real life?

EW: Great question! As I said before, it’s crucial to take advantage of convenient moments in our day. Listening to podcasts (and not just ESL podcasts) is one of the best ways to do this because you can do it while you’re doing practically anything else. Plus, with all the great podcasts out there, you can learn about so much more than just English.

It’s also extremely important to meet people and make friends in our own city that speak English. It doesn’t matter if they’re native speakers or not. It’s just important to meet people with whom you can practice speaking and listening, and to use the language for communication.

While living in Brazil, I started learning French. I had read about how CouchSurfing has a function to search members by the languages they speak. So, I used it to meet a French guy who was also living there in Belo Horizonte. He wanted to improve his English, so we agreed to do an exchange. We quickly became friends, and I’m actually planning to go visit him in France this year (as I’ll be living in Spain, starting RLE Parties there).

So, connection is essential for learning any language if fluency is the goal. Get out and meet people who are as passionate about learning as you. Get an exchange partner or a friend who’s learning English, too. Hold each other accountable. And have fun!

Leave a comment

Have your say!

name *

email *

message *